Posted in TV Stuff

Kamen Rider Ramblings: Agito

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Kamen Rider Agito was the second of the Heisei era of Kamen Rider, a tokusatu (sci-fi/special effects show) from Japan. There were many commonalities between it and the first Heisei series Kamen Rider Kuuga, including an affable lead, motorcycles, non-human opponents and specialised police divisions as well as horrific murders and explosive battles

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Agito is the story of Shoichi Tsuhgami, who is found on a beach and is amnesiac, he is taken in my college professor Yoshihiko Misugi, also living there are Misugi’s son Taiichi and his niece Mana Kazaya, who recently lost her father to an as yet unsolved murder Shouichi is friendly and eager to help and takes over the cooking, cleaning and gardening for the Misugi family Agito is also the story of Ryou Ashihara, a young swimming hopeful, trying to recover after a horrific motorcycle accident, Ryou is cynical and self involved and has little thought for anyone but himself. A third protagonist is Matoko Hikawa, a police officer who after saving lives on a boat during a severe storm is re-assigned to the G3 unit, a police division set up after the events of Kamen Rider Kuuga, to battle the unidentified life forms, should they ever reappear. This armour is very much modelled after Kuuga, with the compound eyes and concentration of armour on the chest and shoulders. These three characters share the hero’s role as a new threat of ‘Unknowns’ arises.

SPOILERS: (For a 14 year old show)

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Heroes
Shouichi spends over 40 of the 51 episodes with no idea who he is, so spends most of the time not really doing very much in the way of character development. He is affable and optimistic and similar to Yusuke Godai in Kuuga takes his transformation into the super human Agito very much in his stride. Ryou Ashihara is the obnoxious bad boy of the show, prickly and argumentative, but is nonetheless noble and caring. Both these young men battle the monsters for little to no motivation beyond helping the person being attacked. Matoko Hikawa is driven by duty and need to prove himself worthy for a job he feels he isn’t really suited for. Honest, committed and at times clumsy, he is a perfect foil for the flaky and artistic Shouichi and vice versa.

Secondary Characters

Shouichi’s supporting cast is the aforementioned family, the stern and sincere, yet sometimes goofy Professor Misugi, the bratty 10 year old Taiichi together with 17 year old Mana, who over time develops psychic powers. Hikawa works on the G3 team along with the hapless doof Omuro and the petulant genius Ozama, who really has a talent for upsetting anyone she ever talks to. These three find themselves often in conflict with Toro Hojou, an unpleasant and ambitious officer, all false smiles and sharp tongue. There’s also Hojou’s partner Konno a middle ages detective with an obsessive fondness for ramen noodles. There’s also several of the passengers of the Ataksuki.

Plot

The main story revolves around a ferry called the Ataksuki, which on a routine trip, gets caught up in a battle between two opposing forces, one light and one dark. The lighter brother, sensing his defeat is imminent sacrifices himself, dividing his power into millions of pieces, which hall to Earth and enter millions of people all over the world. His brother, who claims credit for creating people (yup, the villain here called Overlord is apparently God) is appalled by this and sees this power in mankind to be an abomination and sends his angels to kill anyone with this superhuman potential, because he can’t love these altered humans. These angels (or Lords) are animal based creatures who kill anyone with this potential as well as anyone related by blood. Some of these Agito seeds are active within people (Shouichi, Ashihara and a surgeon called Kino) which tells them of these attacks and guides them to defend the advancement of humanity. Like Kuuga this is very formulaic, we have plot moving forward, some character scenes and battles with the Unknowns. But this differs from Kuuga in three very specific ways.

1: The police and the primary lead don’t work together, almost at all.

2: There are 3 riders through most of the series and during six episodes, there are 4.

3: The pacing is punchier and flows much better.

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There are three Agito riders and a non-Agito rider.

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From left to right we have G3/G3-X is a robot battle suit utilising advanced weapons, support and build in AI to out think and out shoot the unknowns. Mostly worn by Hikawa, this suit kills a good number of the monsters.

Ryou Ashihara becomes  Kamen Rider Gills, a more organic and animal-like with spikes and tendrils used as defensive weapons, he also had a great “Henshin” sequence.

Then there’s Agito, with his weapons and alternate forms, including the brute force Burning mode and the final Shining form.

At the end there is Another Agito, a surgeon called Kino, suffering from his past, another survivor from the Ataksuki, heroic to a point, but often controlled by his darker impulses and motives.

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The unknowns (or Lords) have a very half man/half animal look to them and murder in a variety of disturbing ways.

The Good

Agito is better paced and more tightly plotted than it’s predecessor, more stuff happens organically and the many threads and associated characters are woven together better. Here we get to see several points of view, including the villain’s. With three riders, plus police, we get a great cast of characters leading to an ensemble show which really works. Shouicih is a fun character who’s openness and ebullient nature is nothing to do with his anmesia as when the gaps of his life are filled in, we learn he is exactly as he always has been. While similar to Yusuke Godai from Kuuga, he is a more sympathetic character. The battles are better choreographed and the unknowns are more of a serious and escalating threat with their own understandable motivations. A slightly smaller supporting cast gives each character their own moments and there are less dropped plot-lines than before.

The Bad

Some plot-lines are dropped and how the series starts doesn’t jibe with how it ends with little reason behind the change. Some mini arcs have characters doing the same thing several times and the tone in some scenes is in question as some moments are played for laughs, while we have murders and monsters a minute later. Also as a villain, Overlord doesn’t really do much for most of the series.

Overall

Kamen Rider Agito is a fun and interesting series and has the edge over Kuuga in many ways, including acting, effects, pacing and music. There’s a more layered story, told from mulitple viewpoints. There was less filler than before, which I did appreciate. I dipped my toe in with Kuuga, but dived in with Agito.

Next Time: Kamen Rider Ryuki: Damn I am in fact addicted.

 

Posted in TV Stuff

5 Sci Fi Series that aren’t ‘Franchises’

I have watched the Star Wars films, am watching them with my son, will no doubt watch them again, but I am one of those people who accepts that they are entertaining, but not particularly well made. I enjoyed many of the episodes of Star Trek and their respective films, but I accept that there’s a lot more about it that’s bad than is good. Babylon-5 is also deeply flawed and Stargate SG-1 is very so so.

Now that all those fandoms are after my head, the reason I say that is that Science Fiction on television is more often than not thought of as those franchises and little else. Between them this counts as over 17 films, half a dozen animated series, a couple of one off specials (read: failed pilots) and at least 10 ongoing TV series and counting. There’s an arguement to say that these four franchises (am including B5 to be generous really) have dominated the market, much to TV’s detriment.

So on the TV side, have not watched a full episode of any of them in months, yet have been watching at least 5 different sci fi series. So I wanted to take a quick look at them, because in the franchise dominated entertainment industry, smaller shows, less budget and less big names can be missed and these gems can be forgotten.

1: Lucifer

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I missed the Vertigo boat during the first flush of my comic collecting back in the 90’s. As I looked for different things later on, the vertigo fans put me off the comics. Years passed and I read Preacher and the Neil Gaiman Sandman and others and in the Sandman run was a story where the devil just said “F**k this!” and quit his job and moved to LA to open a piano bar. This series is based on that idea. Tom Ellis plays Lucifer Morningstar, the fallen angel often known as the devil, Satan or others. He’s lived in LA for 5 years with his bar manager an ex-demon called Mazikeen. He gets caught up in a murder investigation headed up by former actress and detached detective Chloe Decker, given the job by her ex husband Dan Espinoza (father to her daughter Trixie) and he’s fascinated by Chloe. Chloe is played by Lauren German who matches Ellis well with some amusing chemistry. Add in a conflicted angel called Amenadiel and a quirky psychotherapist called Linda and this is a hilarious little series found on Amazon Prime. The whole show hangs on the hilarious performance of Tom Ellis as an unrepentant and charming devil who is smart enough to understand tact, but sees no point in it. It’s funny, exciting and while it uses a religious back story, I don’t see any mocking of anyone’s genuine faith. In a very sensitive time, that’s a positive.

 

2: Hunters

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One of a handful of SyFy shows on this list, Hunters uses allegory quite heavily to tell a story about those who battle fanatics, becoming as bad as fanatics.

Really it’s the story of Flynn Carroll, an FBI agent and veteran of war, who still bears the scars of his experiences. His wife disappears, upending his life and the life of the daughter or his dead partner, who he has adopted. His wife was being investigated by the Extraterrestrial Terrorism Unit, a very black ops anti-terrorism unit run by the US government, who recruit Flynn to find a terrorist group made of aliens, hiding in human form. The characterisation is at times slim and there feels like there’s no one to really root for, but it’s tense, well paced and the themes of xenophobia and stressing security over freedom is disturbingly relevant in a post Sept 11 world. The effects are good, but very reminiscent of Aliens, or Predator and the archetypes are easy to see. But this series is interesting and well worth looking at, a nice reminder than when you think you’re the good guy, you’re willing to do almost anything to get what you want. Thing is, no one thinks they are the bad guy, do they?

3: The Expanse

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Am only halfway through this, but it’s fascinating. It’s 300 years in the future, Mars is colonised and is a super-power in it’s own right and it’s dealings with Earth are tense at a cold war level. In the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars is more people, very much seen as an underclass by the two worlds. These ‘Belters’ do a lot of the work that keeps these two worlds going, but benefit little from their endeavours. Yes, this series is about class as much as space. On a space station inside this belt, a cop in a very corrupt system is investigating a missing person and it’s heading into strange and dangerous place. Outside of the belt, an ice mining ship investigates a distress call and get caught up in a plot to kick off the war between Mars and Earth that some on both sides want, but both sides know will cause untold loss of life. Like many dramas with a large cast, we get pieces of each plot thread and spoon fed info to keep us interested. I’m back on watching it this weekend.

4: Dark Matter

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Another SyFy series, this is an ensemble show set in some undetermined future. Man has colonised much of the galaxy and industry and crime is everywhere. 6 people wake up on a ship, no memories, no idea who they or each-other are on a ship they can barely fly, with an artificial intelligence android that’s also amnesiac and a little ‘perculiar’. They learn that they are criminals, mercenaries and runaways and try to make their way in space, taking what jobs they can, trying to work out who took their memories and what they should do.

There’s more than a little taste of Firefly here, the less than legal mixed with a bit of decency and nobility. These strangers to each other and themselves working together makes this series very much it’s own thing. It’s mostly bottle episodes, adding to the feeling of claustrophobic tension and the writing is decent enough for each character to have his/her own voice. After a cracking first season cliffhanger, the series was renewed and I’m looking forward to watching season 2.

5: Killjoys

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When the most famous person in a TV show is the guy who played the second worst Jimmy Olsen on TV, it’s not really inviting. But to be honest, this is my favourite of this 5. It’s not the best, technically or otherwise, but it is one thing that a lot of Sci-Fi TV is missing. It’s fun. Balls out ridiculous fun. Aaron Ashmore plays Johnny Jaqobis, who works for the RAC, which is halfway between marshals and bounty hunters in a planetary system known as  the Quad. He works with/lives with his estranged brother D’avin, a former soldier, suffering PTSD and Dutch, a fighter with an enigmatic past and a temper. They live on a spaceship called Lucy (which does seem to be in love with Johnny) and take warrants for all sorts of criminals and materials. From the plush elite run world of Qureshi, the garden-like Leith, the  abandoned moon of Arkyn and the working class mining colony of Westerley, the team go all over, taking all sorts of jobs and having a lot of wacky adventures.

The action is heavy, the drama well put together and the comedy is sarcastic and at times light hearted. This is fun, it’s the spiritual successor to shows like Farscape with it’s cheeky tone and less than clean cut cast. The first season struggled with it’s tone, but near the end became much more consistent and that consistency has been all over season 2. I would highly recommend this season for fans of action in all it’s forms. This is a fun show and I hope we get more of it.

Ta ta for now internet people.

Posted in TV Stuff

Kamen Rider Ramblings: Kuuga

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A year or two ago, watched a japanese film on youtube, like many of the geekier amongst us, I knew that Saban’s Power Rangers were primarily made from imported and redubbed Japanese TV shows, with original linking scenes. As I hadn’t seen any, didn’t really think much of it. After watching this ridiculous film, which had a plethora of characters I had never seen before and had no context for, I suppose I should have been put off, instead I looked at it as ‘here’s another fictional universe I can dive into, looks fun’. This genre of special-effect heavy sci-fi/fantasy TV show (called Tokusatsu has been going since the 60’s and 70’s and fell into several catergories, the main three being.

Metal Heroes: Often space based, with armoured characters, an example is Space Sheriff Gavan, or Blue SWAT. This isn’t a sub genre I know about to be honest.

Sentai: Sentai translates as soldier, or trooper and is best known as the sub-genre that lead to the Power Rangers franchise, from Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, we get Mighty Morphin. From Denji Sentai Megaranger, we get Power Rangers in Space and that kind of thing, also not something I want to get into here.

The third is Kamen Rider, which translates as Masked Rider. This follows a fairly formulaic format. There’s a threat (non-human in origin) and a motorcycle rider, who transforms into another form to battle said threat. Again, this goes back a good number of years, but is split into several eras.

The Showa era runs from 1971-1989, there was a ten year hiatus and the Kamen Rider came back into the Heisei era, then the second phase of the Heisei era. Seeing the Heisei era as a good place to start, I tested the waters with a few single episodes of different things and then started with the first Heisei show Kamn Rider Kuuga.

Kamen Rider Kuuga

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First aired in 1999, this 49 part series followed Yusuke Godai (I’m going to do the first name/surname thing, simply for ease) a young slacker, who while a hard worker, viewed life as an adventure and travelled the world. He pops by to see his friend Sakurako Sawatari, who works at a local university in ancient cultures and languages. She is Yusuke’s oldest friend and when she is called to an architectural dig in Nagano Japan, he goes with her.
At the dig, there are several dead bodies, a horrible monster has appeared and escaped as well as 200+ new creatures who seemed to erupt out of the ground. The detective in charge Kaoru Ichijo brings Godai and Sawatari to the police station, which is attacked by the first of these creatures, referred to as unidentified creature #1. During the fight, a stone belt from the dig is thrown across the room and the curious Godai puts it on. He is transformed into some kind of armoured warrior and battles #1. He wins barely and is considered by the police #2. Realising this is going to be a thing, Ichijo as well as detectives Norimichi Sugita and Tsuyoshi Sakarai are assigned to a science police division under the command of  Sadao Matsukura. When #3 comes along, Godai goes after him, needing more strength, he changes into the Mighty Form and defeats #3, but doesn’t kill him. He’s then seen by the police and considered #4. Ichijo recognises Godai’s value and the two partner up, whenever the police find out about an attack, the woman on dispatch Sasayama, tells Ichijo, who tells Godai, who changes into his warrior mode, which the creatures he battles call “Kuuga”. We have the formula in place and  there battles follow on from there, with the bad guys (the Gurongi) killing off huge swathes of people for a game they call the Gegeru. The game is to kill off as many of the descendants of the Linto, or the rest of the human race, as possible. All under the watch of Ra-Baruba-De, who organises the game and creature #0 also known sa N-Daura-Zebu, who is another Kuuga.

Action: There is some form of fight scene with every episode, but not before a lot of regular people and a staggering number of police are killed. Seriously the police in this program get killed off so fast, you think they slagged off the show runner. The battles between Kuuga and the monstrous Gurongi often have Godai transform (or Henshin!) and use of the following forms.

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The Mighty form was the default and most battles started with this guy, it’s main value was it’s strength.

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The Dragon form was used for speed and leaping, this form could also take poles, pipes and other long objects and reshape it to a bo/quarter staff.

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The Pegasus form had heightened senses and could transform a handgun into a ornated looking crossbow.

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The Titan form was impervious to many attacks and could change a bike throttle into a broadsword.

Each battle ended with some sort of explosion, most often after a flying kick.

Characters:

There was a sprawling supporting cast as well as the core cast.

Yusuke Godai: Perpetually cheerful and optimistic, greeting everyone with a thumbs up and strove towards gaining 2,000 skills

Kauro Ichijo: Strait laced and methodical police detective, married to his job, Godai mellowed him out a little.

Sakurako Sawatari: Studious and cautious, expert in ancient languages. She worries about Godai and works to translate any information from the dig to aid him along with her colleague Jean Michel Sorrel.

Police officers: Sadao Matsukura, Nozomi Sasayama, Tsuyoshi Sawatari and Morimichi Sugita. They were the main part of the science police tasked with ending the Gurongi threat. Supported ably by Shuichi Tsubaki and Hikari Enokida who worked medical and scientific respectively. Enokida was also charged with developing weapons to kill the Gurongi.

In his home life, Yusuke lived with his uncle Tamasatura Kazi, who ran a cafe, with a family friend Nana Asahina, an aspiring actress with a severe crush on Yusuke. Also there from time to time was Minori Godai, Yusuke’s sister, who was a primary school teacher, who’s class was often entertained by the entertaining Yusuke. There was also Yusuke’s old primary school teacher Shoji Kanzaki, who got Yusuke through a rough time and returned the favour when he could.

As you can see, this was a large ensemble cast and a narrative that went well beyond a monster of the week series. Themes looked at were social anxiety, the effects of terrorism, depression and work/life balance. Really the series was about how far you go to battle an enemy. Would Kuuga become as angry as the Gurongi, would the modern human race become more like the Gurongi as they battled them. The series ended with a battle between Kuuga and #0 and the last episode was very much an aftermath episode as we find out what happened to everyone.

I’ve gone on long enough and I’m glad I gave this odd duck of a series a go.

Might do more now.

Have Agito to try next.